Monday, June 29, 2009

Message from a Relative

Dear Readers of Dr. Kong’s Blog:

My cousin, (Dr. Kong), delights in writing on his blog about his humble beginnings, his rags to riches story and returning to his roots in the bush. True enough, we were fortunate to grow up (in different households) in a delightful country community known as Woodlands District, St. Elizabeth. However, my recollection of my childhood does not line up with those of Dr. Kong. It is frustrating to read about how his mode of transportation was a donkey; how he ate corn meal dumplings and badoo on a coco leaf that was boiled in a kerosene can by farm workers; how he swam in and got drinking water from the same pond where the cows also drank from; and how he used a pit toilet.

My own recollection is that we had electricity, running water from our tank and helpers who even brought us a hot lunch to school. The most frustrating part of his BLOG is that, unfortunately, when he tells his story, people who know that we are related, grew up together believe that his life story is also my story. It is not. I resent that he has tied me and our families through his depictions of a life of poverty.

My home had a bathroom with a flush toilet, a sink and bathtub with hot water. We had a kitchen with a refrigerator, gas stove, sink and an area for food preparation and storage. We even had radio and television. Our minister (Rev. Haden Todd) and headmaster (Mr. Clifford Chang) owned cars as well as our relatives in Springfield and Santa Cruse. We often went to Kingston, Mandeville, Montego Bay, and Black River for funerals, weddings, just to visit family and to shop. Our cricket and domino teams traveled by truck to several places to compete and several local musicians delighted us with their songs. We frequently went to Bluefields Beach to swim. My parents made a good living from raising cows, pigs and chickens as well as various farming related interests including pimento (cloves).

We learned a lot of English poems, history and geography. Our Minister at the Moravian Church and our excellent teachers at the time, taught us discipline, passed on good values as well as a good idea about our place in the world. While I do not know what life has been like since I left Woodlands forty years ago, I cannot relate to the depiction of our life as deprived country bunkins. Many doctors, lawyers, accountants, ministers, teachers and leaders like Dr. Kong came out of this remarkable community. That is the other side of our story.

Elron McFarlane (Brooklyn, NY)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Response to my Blog: Producing Professionals for Jamaica

Dear Dr. Kong:

I have been reading your blogs for a while now and have found them to be insightful and thought provoking. I was especially taken by the article in relation to 'Producing professionals for Jamaica' article.

For over 20yrs, since graduating with a first class honours degree and many years of senior management experience in the education field in the UK, I and many like me, have struggled to get a 'response' from the Establishment for enquiries of opportunities to invest our talent back in the country of our birth. Even after going back and trying to make appointments and countless fruitless telephone conversations with 'bureaucrats' with little customer care, has amounted to nothing. I agree with all of your 'Seven' reasons to be proud to be back, but how you 'establish' that critical mass of good role models is beyond me. One way might be to encourage the best of the best to come back home to help build the nation and not for them to return when they have retired. The trick surely must be to utilise the strength, energy, drive and experience of those models while they are still performing at their peak?

I am now approaching that time in my life where I am looking to retire and have been thwarted from contributing to that development. In case we misunderstand, I am not advocating a 'displacement' approach here, where 'those abroad' knows best and displace local talent. It takes all sorts and there can be added value from those who have seen it from the other side to be able to help reflect a more 'positive' and perhaps, proactive, approach to how life is. Some times it's not knowing what is possible that keeps us down. Without dreams where would we be? I am afraid there are times when you read and travel around the island, what you do see is despondency and a fatalism that tells you we no longer have dreamers; just people waiting for Godot!

Karl Murray

Dear Mr. Murray:

Thank you so much for your patronage as well as your insights into the Jamaica condition. There are several of us who would love to make a contribution but neither the government, educational institutions or even religious entities provide meaningful avenues to exploit the talents of our ex-patriots whether they are in the prime of their careers or retiring. In my informal survey, I don't find many people who are willing to come back and I don't find too many people who want them to return either. So, I guess we will continue to charge towards the precipice. All that notwithstanding, Jamaica was designated the third happiest place to live

Over the last twelve months since I have been back, I have spent over J$10,000,000 joining Caymanas country club, paying caddies, eating in restaurants, buying groceries, supporting my cell phone and international calling, purchasing an automobile, staying at hotels, giving computers to schools, contributing to various funeral expenses, aid to a family I adopted, donating to several churches, outright gifts to the needy and giving a set of golf clubs to my caddie. I also realize that physicians, nurses and dentists who I know will offer their services free at health fairs just because I ask. Mr. Garnett Myrie and I persuaded "Food for the Poor", an incredibly effective charitable organization to build 50 houses for the needy in the community where I grew up in St. Elizabeth. I have also been donating a great deal of my time preaching at various gatherings about preventive health and obtaining better access to health care to everyone who will listen. I am particularly motivated to just talk to young people about their options. Our government do not invest very much in late blooming children. Caddies at golf courses go to work seven days per week (70 hours) and work about 15 hour per week). When not working, they just sit. It would be marvelous to assign a teacher and a library to improve the knowledge, attitude and skills for 100 healthy, intelligent and motivated citizens. Everyone of them want to improve their condition. I also hate the fact that our society is so willing to give up on children who get labeled as "bad". This rush to judge our children as "good for nothing" is horrendous. If they fail, we fail; if they succeed, we all succeed.

I am not trying to be simplistic or identify "the solution" to our condition, but can you imagine the impact of even one thousand retirees returning with a modicum of zeal to help?

Basil Kong

According to Mr. ESTEBAN AGOSTO REID: (June 11, 2009) "With all these bureaucratic impediments, hurdles, obstacles, excessive regulations, Jamaica is definitely not open for business."

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Disturbing response to my blog

From: Nathan Byrd
Sent: 6/3/2009 9:33:26 AM
To: Basil Kong


Nice blog: it is attractive and the content is very good, insightful. I
don't know what the future holds for Jamaica. The US currently talks about
how college students from the States go down and face danger. It is my
understanding that the Peace Corp pulled out. USA Today had a front page
article about a US student studying in Jamaica and finding herself sexually
assaulted on her last day in country.

I have never been to Jamaica. However, I do carry a fondness for the island
that has been fueled by my love of soccer and a lifetime of listening to
Roots Rock Reggae.


Nathan Byrd, Pastor
Historic First Presbyterian Church
Phoenix, AZ 85003

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Seven Things I love the Most About Jamaica

What I love about Jamaica (Our Seven Jewels)

Last week, Stephanie and I were enjoying dinner with friends at "East" in Market Place when the gentleman across from me asked: “So Basil, tell me seven things you really love about Jamaica.” I responded that I could name a thousand, but he insisted that I limit my response to seven. Here is the list I shared from my status as a retired returning resident.

1. Our people
Jamaican people are my people, the people who nurtured, loved me and taught me manners, our songs, our stories and gave me a substantial culture. We are long suffering people who are genuinely engaging, industrious, generous and fun loving. I have received so much kindness from strangers! No other people can charm each other with our expressions. Everyone else can more or less say: “I haven’t seen you in awhile. How are you?” In Jamaica we say: “Long time now me never see you, come mek we walk and talk.” Isn’t that beautiful? And speaking of beautiful, it is no accident that we have so many gorgeous people. Do you remember how Stella got her groove back? When the British went to Africa to bring back slaves to work the cane fields, they were heartless, but let’s give them credit for being shrewed businessmen. They didn’t bring back diminutive, ugly, handicapped, weak, sickly people; and even if they did, they would have perished during the crossing. In order to get the best return on their investment, they selected and brought back handsome, strong and intelligent people. That is our gene pool. Now add a little sprinkling of the Scots, the Irish, the English, the German, Dutch, Chinese, Syrian, Indian and Jewish blood and what do you get? You get some of the most intelligent, talented and beautiful people on earth. We were hand picked unlike places that were populated by criminals and undesirables who England wanted to purge from their society. Jamaica could be such an advanced, thinking and productive society if our wealth was not so badly managed.

2. Our weather
I often joke that the weatherman in Jamaica has the most boring job. Other than hurricane season when a few storms clean the air, the weatherman can make a recording and don’t even have to show up for work; “Just play it again Sam.” i.e. “Ladies and gentlemen, today is just another day in paradise, sunny and 80% Fahrenheit with afternoon showers followed by a glorious rainbow from one horizon to the other. The ocean is 90 degrees and the cool breeze will be blowing at a mild 20 miles per hour. The sunrise was just magnificent and the sunset will colorful and guaranteed to inspire the poets in all of us.” Who wouldn’t want to be in paradise? One of my passions is playing golf which because we are a tourist destination and so few local people play, in addition to the wonderful weather all year long, I can make my way to the club without having to make a tee time any day of the week. I love walking the course with my caddy who has become a very reliable friend. I often enjoy playing with the caddies who give me five a side and still beat me. In the United States, I am robbed of the opportunity to walk the five miles as golf carts are now mandatory.

3. There is always something going on. You cannot be bored living in Jamaica. Whether it is a play, Carnival, Bacanal, Brukins, Jazz fest, Independence celebrations, there is always something exciting and wonderful going on at local live theatre, Sabina Park and the National Stadium. Christmas is an absolutely wonderful time on the Island. My wife and I enjoy going to a friend’s house for soup on Saturday afternoons, church on Sundays mornings and hanging out with family on Sunday afternoons. Beenie Man or some other great entertainer is always performing in a neighborhood close to you. We can partake of what we show off to the tourists. Most resort hotels offer a wide range of music including jazz, mento, calypso, reggae, country and classical. Jamaicans are very diverse in our taste. Obviously the food is unparalleled. Whether served in someone’s home or at a restaurant, Jamaican cuisine is one of the jewels of the Caribbean. The list of options is much too long for this brief discussion but we are creating a food sensation around the world. If you like hot and spicy, you will love Jamaican cuisine. Scotch bonnet pepper is the most flavorful of all peppers. I have a particular fondness for corn pone and corn porridge. I can "nam" Jamaican every day.

4. Excellent Education if you can afford it. I really wish my children and grand children could have a Jamaican private school education that is based on the Classical model. Why don’t we bring some of this excellence to the public sector? How do you explain why so many world class athletes come out of our University of Technology or that a little girl from Jamaica can win the Scripts Spelling Bee?

5. Economic opportunity. With an in-expensive talented labor force, sunshine, good soil and rain, what’s to prevent us from producing our own energy and competing on world markets for agricultural products? The world wants our coffee, rum, spices, ground items, fruits, jams, sauces, honey, nuts, flowers, and the many others, so why haven’t we fully exploited this sector? It pains me to see how many of our mangoes, almonds, oranges go to waste and how much of our land remains fallow when we could be the new bread basket for the world. Our banana and plantain chips could easily replace potato chips throughout the world. I believe food will be the bauxite of the future.

6. The place is very international. We get visitors from all over the world and have more trading partners than most other countries. I met Jamaicans who speak fluent German, Chinese, Japanese, Swahili, Russian, Hungarian and Spanish. Jamaicans live in every corner of the world and the world comes to Jamaica.

7. Opportunity to Serve. Jamaica offers a myriad of opportunities for every citizen to serve the people and the country. Doing very little can go a long way. I am surprised by how much can be accomplished just by calling on my relationships to improve housing, enhance employment opportunities, computers for classrooms, sports equipment and promoting my seven steps to good health. I get a great deal of satisfaction from meeting some of the unmet needs in rural communities that actually have measurable impact on the lives of many. I am convinced that this kind of advocacy is doing God’s work. According to Martin Luther King, we can all be great because we can all serve. Volunteering and giving generously is a very worthwhile mission, especially for retired people like me. No one can meet all the needs in Jamaica but that does not mean we cannot help someone. We cannot do everything but we can do something. Every little bit helps a little.

Yes. Jamaica is a brand. I am not at all surprised that Jamaica was selected as one third happiest places to live by Life Magazine. If you place the names of all the countries of the world on Tee shirts, the Jamaican shirts would sell out first. At this point in my life, I am where I want to be. Count me among one of the happy people living in one of the happiest places in the world. Yea mon! I am in a Jamaica state of mind. Because I have returned to the fountain of youth, I am so much more younger than when I retired. Is it possible that I can live a long life without getting old?

Producing Professionals for Jamaica

Developing More Professionals for Jamaica
Basil Waine Kong

An African proverb suggest that if fathers want to nurture healthy, happy, considerate and contributing children, tend to their mother’s happiness. African Americans added: “If mama is not happy, no one is happy.” A further extension of that would suggest that to produce highly skilled professionals who chose to live and work in Jamaica, we need good role models.

Unfortunately, the brain drain to developed countries, the lack of role models, the indoctrination of children that they should prepare themselves for low paying jobs and most importantly, the lack of will on the part of political leaders to provide the resources to develop this important resource all work together to stifle and maybe even choke off the opportunity for our very gifted children from achieving their potential as professionals.

A cultivator who plants his seeds in fertile soil, expose the plants to the sun, remove unwanted weeds and made sure his vegetables receive adequate water, will be assured of a bountiful harvest. On the other hand, a planter who sows his seeds in rocky barren soil and neglects his crop will starve. But, not all the seeds of the conscientious farmer will bear fruit and not all the seeds from the neglected field will go to waste. There will always be the exceptional students who flourish in a barren land or perish in the land of plenty.

And yet we rise. Through serendipity, pure grit and perseverance, highly gifted and able professionals emerge from the most devastating circumstances in Jamaica. The song, “There is a rose in Spanish Harlem” brings to mind, flowers blooming in slums, trees growing in rocks as well as a clean, groomed well dressed little girls and boys leaving shacks on their way to church on the Sabbath.

As we contemplate the elements of successfully producing gifted and highly trained professionals, we need to consider that there are some thirty “golf schools” in the United States. In other words, instead of a regular high school, gifted and wealthy students attend these special high schools where they live and breathe golf in addition to their academic subjects. They receive coaching, play golf every day and hone their skills, knowledge and attitude. Yet, no graduate from these programs have ever won a major tournament. Tiger Woods, on the other hand, was coached by his father and won them all.

Jamaica, by all our standard measures, is a low resource country with high unemployment, low income, and substandard infrastructure. How is it then possible that we excel at every field of human endeavour? Symbolically, who can explain why the fastest and second fastest human being that ever lived hale from Jamaica and that Jamaicans won more gold medals at the Olympic Games than India and the entire South America combined? Great writers, poets, scientists, political leaders, musicians and professionals from every specialty were born in Jamaica. The question then is not why Jamaica cannot produce gifted, ethical and effective professionals but whether we can produce more---a lot more.

The English ideal was for their citizens to be “Healthy, wealthy and wise”. It is not by accident that health always takes centre stage in any contemplation of the elements of success. Sick and hungry students do not learn as fast and fall behind. Physical handicaps limit participation in the activities of daily living and school performance. But it is probably even more important to contemplate the health of parents and grandparents. Children need good teachers, access to the Internet, guidance and support for their daily needs.

Jamaican professionals migrating to the United States, Canada and Europe deplete our intellectual resources and widen the inequities between Jamaica and the developed countries where many of our intellectuals reside. The loss of nurses, doctors, engineers and pharmacists is particularly extreme. While these individuals benefit and relatives receive financial remittances, as well as improved training and professional networks that will aid future trainees, the loss to Jamaica is high. We invest a lot in their training and we do not benefit from their skills. It is also a significant brain waste when expatriate professionals move to developed countries working in non-professional employment for higher pay than they could earn working as professionals in Jamaica.

Sociologist Jonathan Crane observed that it only takes a very few role models to have a good effect on a community. But without a critical mass of positive role models, a community will predictably “tip” very quickly in a bad direction under the influence of bad role models.

Many of our children are guilty of low aim. The indoctrination of children that they should prepare themselves for low paying jobs is insidious in our educational system. I am appalled that one third of our population cannot do basic reading, writing and arithmetic.

Jamaica must stop promoting a model of dependency on developed countries. We must work together to develop the infrastructure that will make it attractive for home grown professionals to invest in Jamaica and future generations of Jamaicans. We must start with the political will to improve our public health, improve our educational system, reduce the brain drain as well as not frustrate the ambitions of our youth. We can do this!